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Newsmakers

Rep. Eliot Engel News/Business. (2012) Discussing the Benghazi attack and other issues.

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00:30:00

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TOPIC FREQUENCY

Chuck Hagel 11, Syria 8, U.s. 3, Benghazi 3, Us 3, United States 3, Israel 3, Washington 3, Assad 3, John Kerry 3, Engel 3, Susan Rice 2, Obama Administration 2, John Kerry With John Kerry 1, America 1, New York 1, Libya 1, U.n. 1, Hezbollah 1, The City 1,
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  CSPAN    Newsmakers    Rep. Eliot Engel  News/Business.  (2012)  
   Discussing the Benghazi attack and other issues.  

    December 23, 2012
    6:00 - 6:30pm EST  

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tuesday evening on c-span. >> our guest on "newsmakers" is congressman eliot engel, democrat of new york. thanks for being here this week. >> let me introduce our two reporters. tim mak is a staff writer for "politico." josh rogin is a staff writer at "foreign policy" magazine. >> senator kerry will be nominated to be the next secretary of state. i went to get your first reaction to this and whether you think he is a better nominee than susan rice. >> i think in the world of john kerry -- i supported him for president. why wouldn't i support him for secretary of state? he is knowledgeable of foreign policy.
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he has chaired the foreign relations committee in the senate, knows all the issues. he understands the politics. he understands the electoral politics as well. i think it is an excellent choice. i think he will be very good secretary of state. susan rice withdrew from the nomination. i do not think it is fair to compare it the two. i think john kerry will be an excellent secretary. >> why you think it is not fair to compare the two? >> the rumor was that she was his first choice, but we do not really know if that is the truth. we've got to compare john kerry with john kerry, not with somebody else. >> what do you think his biggest hurdle will be in his upcoming confirmation hearings? >> i do not think he will have much of a hurdle.
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the senators know him. there has been a tendency for the senate to easily confirm one of their own. he is knowledgeable. no one is going to deny that. he has all the credentials necessary to be a good secretary of state. >> mr. rogin? >> the senate usually does confirm members -- we know there is a huge opposition to the nomination of chuck hagel to secretary of defense. he referred to the pro-israel lobby as the jewish lobby. do you think it is fair to hold chuck hagel accountable for that remark? >> i think that remark is troublesome.
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it shows at the best lack of sensitivity. at the worst, prejudice. i am concerned about the nomination. obviously chuck hagel has been at the center for many years and has good attributes. there's a lot of controversy not only with that remark, but with some of his votes. it is troublesome. i've been hearing a lot from my constituents, mainly in opposition to his nomination. >> there are two sets of things that have come up, one of them indicated he declined to sign some letters in the senate that were related to issues relating to the middle east. he voted against sanctions on iran and libya. he has expressed the view that press containment might be an option. that does not seem to be in line with the president's policy
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or recent votes in the senate. what is your view on that? >> those things are all true. it seems there is some kind of an endemic hostility towards israel. he served in the senate for a number of years and has done many good things. those are warning bells. it is potentially troublesome. >> i was going to ask a question about washington. in the case of susan rice and chuck hagel, it seems like we're going through exercise of pre- betting. is this a new and healthy trend in washington? >> i do not think it is really new. i think today with the media,
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everybody knows about everything the minute it happens. perhaps it is new because of that. we are a democratic society, an open society. people have a right and an obligation to voice their opinions and vent. if you're appointing someone to a high post, you need to look behind the credentials. chuck hagel is qualified to be secretary of defense. you want to have these other things available as well. he wants someone to not be controversial. if they are controversial, they will be distracted from what they ordinarily should be doing.
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you want to have a non- controversial nominee. >> i wanted to press you a little bit on this. your colleague shelley berkley has said that chuck hagel is unacceptable for secretary of defense. do you support or oppose that potential nomination? >> i have trouble with it. i think there are warning bells and red signals. i would hope that the president would look at -- >> he is not an unknown quantity. >> i do not do the appointing. the president does. i would not appoint chuck hagel. i think the president knows what to do.
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i did not necessarily want to tell him what he should do. i think he knows and others know that the hagel nomination potentially is a problem. >> one alternative that has been suggested for chuck hagel if he was not to be nominated is michèle flournoy. it is been suggested that she would add diversity to the cabinet. do you have strong feelings about it?
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>> i think she would be a good potential secretary of defense. i think she would have to be vetted. there are lots of things about lots of people that have to be vetted. certainly if chuck hagel is not the nominee, she is someone who should be looked at. she has good credentials. i am not advocating for anyone in particular. i am not comfortable with pushing the president and prodding him. i think he knows what he needs to do. i think it is important for members of congress and groups who feel strongly one way or another to voice their opinion, and the present hopefully takes that into consideration before he makes his pick for a nomination. that is what i am saying. >> do the national security posts in the cabinet require more diversity? >> i think diversity is always a good thing.
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i want the most qualified person in there. i think you have to be sensitive to diversity and try to reach out and be inclusive, but i do not think that diversity in itself is the most important thing. the most important thing is to get qualified people who could do the best job. >> i would like to move on to the issue bigger committee tackled yesterday, which is the september 11 attacks on the u.s. mission and annex in benghazi. three other officials were placed on administrative leave. they may or may not be disciplined. are you satisfied that the investigation is done?
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>> the most important thing is not whether or not the president called it a terrorist attack or anything like that. the most important thing is to ensure that no benghazi's happen in the future. there were plenty of mistakes to report. in the future that the coordination is better and we do not make the same mistakes, that is the most important thing. it was a mistake for mitt romney to use this as a political thing during the campaign. i think foreign policy should be bipartisan to the extent that is possible, and in a time of tragedy, americans need to rally around -- rally together and not try to use it for political, partisan purposes. we need to dissect it, see what happened and make sure it never
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happens again. there were recommendations that were made, and secretary clinton accepts all of them. we have to make sure that our diplomats or in places all around the world -- some of the places are very dangerous -- that they are protected. and congress has to do its part. i am troubled that the house has consistently lowballed the monies for diplomatic security around the world and has constantly lowballed anything to do with diplomacy around the world. monies that have come out after negotiations between house and senate -- usually the senate had a higher amount of money. but the money that was agreed upon for both was much lower than had been requested. that is troubling.
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if congress is going to point the finger, we need to put our money where our mouth is. we need to make sure that our men and women who are in harm's also way all around the world who do such wonderful jobs, that we're protecting them and not doing this on the cheap. >> as we learned in the hearings and report, requests for more security could have been funded within the existing budget and were denied by the state department. we also learn that these denials and the discussion of these requests reached the highest levels of the state department, yet no senior state department officials have been held to account for that. do you believe that accountability for this tragedy should rise above the assistant secretary of state? >> i am not sure. the assistant secretary of state is the one who was really
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in charge of security, and the one that we rely on to make recommendations. for me, it is not so much pointing a finger at individuals. if these individuals did not do their job, they should resign or be forced out. the important thing is to make sure we do not have that happen again. the report said that we were relying very heavily on some of the libyan militias. that is very troubling. of course we rely on the host countries to protect our diplomats all over the world if you're in particularly dangerous areas. we ought to have our own people there making sure that our own people are safe. it was a tremendous lack of judgment on their part for us to just think that we can get by on the cheap. if people did not do the right thing, then heads should roll. for me, that is not the most
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important thing. i want to make sure that the resources are there to make sure it does not happen again. >> the city is tied up in knots over the so-called fiscal cliff. what are the foreign policy implications? >> one of the things i always find in congress is the minute we have budgetary restrictions -- before we even knew the word cliff with regard to this -- makes great rhetoric or demagoguery to say, we need money for at home. we do not need money for around the world. it always gets applause and it is great. but the truth is that the united states needs to be engaged around the world because we are the world power. we are a superpower, and we have interests. foreign aid, although it does
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other countries good, it also does us good. i worry about -- if you take foreign aid that is less than 1% of the u.s. budget, if he did a survey amongst the population, they think it is 15% and should be cut. if we start cutting foreign aid, cutting security for our diplomats around the world, being penalized and pound foolish, i think as a world power we need to maintain a robust foreign policy and make sure our people are protected.
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>> are we over funding foreign aid right now? what percentage increase would you suggest we need in order to have that robust foreign policy? >> and think we are underfunding it for many years. we underfunded it when we had surpluses and when we had a balanced budget, and in those years you could have said, we should increase it. i think now with these huge deficits, it is very hard to say that there should be a substantial increase of foreign aid when we're talking about going off the fiscal cliff and we do not have enough money to do some basic things with we should be doing at home. i think this is the worst possible time to do it. in general, we're underfunding in my estimation foreign aid. we do foreign aid because it is the right thing to do, but it is the right thing to do for the united states. we need friendly countries around the world, we need countries that emulate us.
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we have much to share, much to give to the world. i think it helps the united states. it also helps stimulate our economy. some of the aid we give is put right back into our economy. >> when we're talking about the fiscal cliff, we heard so much about spending and revenues over the next decade. is the best scenario over the next decade merely a maintenance of existing foreign aid? >> certainly we should maintain it. we have in fact cut back on foreign aid. at the very least, we should maintain it. i would like to see if we get to a place where we can have some agreement in washington and put our finances in better shape, in a few years we could increase it. foreign aid is good for the
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countries that get it, but also america. >> let me ask you about the situation in syria. 40,000 people dead. almost two years into a civil war. no real end in sight. the obama administration has a clear policy of avoiding intervention. what do you think should be done more in syria? >> syria is a complex issue. i was the author of the syrian accountability act, which passed both houses of congress and signed by president bush in 2004, slapping sanctions on syria for the first time ever.
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we knew in 1979 that syria was an aider and abetter of the assad regime. it put sanctions on syria for doing all these horrendous things, including supporting terrorism, for occupying lebanon, and other things. assad is a bad guy. his father was a bad guy. the assad dictatorship has ruled for 40 years. the have been ruthless in their power. they are iran's main ally in the region. i think it would be a blow to iran if the regime were to fall. we are very cautious. we do not want to get involved in any more wars. think it is enough. i do think there are a lot of
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things we could be and should be doing to help the opposition and syria. >> such as? >> we are finally recognizing the opposition. we're finally helping to arm the opposition. we do not want u.s. troops on the ground. but i do think it is very important and that we work in collaboration -- >> we're helping to arm the opposition? >> we're working with our allies to make sure that the allies get arms. it cannot be a blank check. unfortunately, some of the rebels have been infiltrated by al qaeda.
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i think assad should leave. his days are numbered. he either signs an agreement and leaves, or he will be forced to leave and maybe will never leave because the same thing that happened to some of the other dictators may happen to him. iran, hezbollah has been there fighting on his side, supplying him with all kinds of things. russia has been a bad player here. we think maybe we can pull things away a little bit. it is a big plus that we have finally recognized code along with other countries the opposition. >> i want to pursue a little bit on what you said about helping to arm rebels in syria. what do you know -- >> their arms that are going to the rebels. we know that is happening.
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>> is the american government helping to facilitate that? >> i think we know what is going on. i am not saying we're facilitating it, but we know that the rebels are getting the arms as they need. >> previously the obama administration said there red line was to see chemical weapons moved and prepared for use. now it seems that there red line is the actual use of these weapons. what do think the red line should be? >> i think we have made it clear to assad that it is unacceptable to use these weapons, and i do not think he is going to do it. >> the obama administration has approved increased sanctions on iran. as the head of a democrat on the foreign affairs committee, how
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do you plan to move forward? do you plan to push for more sanctions on the iranian regime, or go along with the obama administration's approach? >> i am for more sanctions in iran. we ought to keep the pressure on them. >> in what is your relationship like with your counterpart on the house foreign relations committee and in the senate? how do you propose moving forward on issues? >> i think we will work together. i am looking forward to working with ed royce, the new chairman in-house. >> how do you plan to use your
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post? >> foreign-policy should be bipartisan. i am a strong supporter of israel. i am a strong supporter of u.n. involvement around the world. >> two minutes left. >> the house foreign affairs committee over the last year was consumed by infighting. most of their legislation never was signed by the president. how do you plan to bring this committee back to a position of relevance and importance? >> i am someone who reaches across the aisle. i think we will find common ground. what i've taken trips across two different countries, have found that the differences between democrats and republicans are
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really not that great in terms of dealing with other countries. i think there is much room for bipartisan action in foreign affairs. that is why when you were talking about benghazi, i am more concerned that we do not have any of this happening in the future and we learned from our mistakes. we best learn when things are bipartisan. >> it is a complicated world. our time is up. thank you very much, mr. engel. let me start by questioning the effectiveness of the foreign affairs committee.
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what are the prospects for this committee going forward having relevance? >> both the house foreign affairs committee and the senate foreign relations committee have been largely relevant for many years. they do not pass authorization bills, which is their primary responsibility. the bills they do pass are often ideological and partisan. the senate foreign relations committee can at least confirm nominations. the house does not even do that. what we're hearing today from congressman engel and from bob corker is that they want their jobs to matter. the want to bring these committees back to some sort of position of prominence. it is not clear that is going to
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succeed. the republican side of the committee, you will have many people in that leadership who are committed to passing a bill on issues like abortion and climate change in immigration, all sorts of things that are never going to see the light of day in terms of becoming a lot. the same thing in the senate. there is not a lot of bipartisan cooperation to advance middle interests. >> moving from capitol hill to the other side of pennsylvania avenue, we had a discussion about two nominations. potentially john kerry, and the debate over new defense secretary. what did you learn that was interesting? >> i thought was interesting that he came out so strongly against chuck hagel.
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congressman engel is a very pro- israel congressman. i am surprised he did not come out even stronger. it was interesting to see him say that it was not something he would do if he was in a position to make that kind of decision. >> where does this place the white house with the pre- nomination debate going on in the news media and elsewhere? >> the white house has a limited amount of time to get their agenda through. the greater the pressure mounts against senator engel, the worse are the chances of being nominated. ultimately, the president will have to decide whether or not he
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wants to appear to have been backed down by republicans for a second time, which makes him look -- or whether you want to spend his political capital earned after the selection on somebody like chuck hagel, who he may not have some personal attachment to one way or the other. >> i think this is a very busy time for the white house, and they did not want to get wrapped up. look at all the things that happened this week. you had to deal with sequestration, the defense authorization bill. do you want to add on top of a controversial nomination on a friday? it looks like they're not going to go ahead with it. to go ahead with it.

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